I was born in 1998, at the tail end of the decade I love. Titanic was in cinemas, Britney Spears released … Baby One More Time, Geri Halliwell left the Spice Girls and Apple released the bright turquoise iMac computer.
I was too young to appreciate those things, but my first home in Mansfield was full of 90s decor. I loved the fun of it. The hallway was decorated in tongue and groove wood panelling, with green and terracotta wallpaper. We had a tangerine kitchen with bottle green appliances, and my bedroom was covered in suns and moons. Homes weren’t decorated for Instagram then. People were less self-conscious and weren’t afraid to experiment. I moved house about 15 times during my childhood but anything that harked back to the 90s felt like home.
As a teenager, I enjoyed discovering discarded 90s memorabilia in car boot sales and charity shops. I was diagnosed with Asperger’s and came out as gay at 15. I was often painted as different, so toned down my interests. But in the sixth form, I encountered other people with eclectic tastes, so I started having fun and dressing in Levi’s 501s, silk shirts and baggy Sweater Shop and Kangol jumpers – the quintessential 90s uniform.
I’d built a collection of 90s tech at home. Dad gave me a Kenwood hi-fi for my 14th birthday – he’d got it for £40 in an online auction. I bought the debut 1998 iMac for £50 on eBay, and an old Sanyo TV after seeing an ad for it in the newspaper. I use them all, although the functionality of the computer is limited. I sourced every Now That’s What I Call Music CD from 1990 to 1999 from record stores, charity shops and eBay, and collected hardback interior books from the decade, including Laura Ashley catalogues for £2 each.
I am now an illustrator and much of my work is inspired by the 90s. Two years ago, my boyfriend, Matthew, and I moved into a cottage with my parents in Bakewell, Derbyshire. Mum and Dad gave me free rein over decor. I gave Mum a full Laura Ashley bedroom with pale pink and white floral bedding. The kitchen has 90s yellow appliances, like the ones my gran had.
In the living room, there is a CD tower with albums from Blur, the Cardigans, Dubstar and Steps. A Spice Girls calendar hangs on the door and we have an old VHS player. I watch my Vicar of Dibley box set on it. I drive an old blue Austin Metro and recently bought myself a project car, a 1984 beige Toyota Carina, to do up.
Matthew wasn’t interested in the 90s when we started dating, but after three years together, my interest has rubbed off on him, too, and we share clothes. Everyone in our small village knows me because of how I dress. When I go into Manchester or Sheffield, I blend in more, especially now the 90s are popular again. I used to get looks that suggest I’ve dropped in from another planet. It’s great to see the resurgence but it’s forced up prices, which is annoying. I saw a shirt I got for £1 in a charity shop bin years ago selling for £60 in a vintage shop.
During lockdown, I shared videos of my home on TikTok. I wanted to bring nostalgia and joy during a miserable time. People messaged me saying it reminded them of the homes and relatives they loved; others have offered to send me memorabilia. I’ve met friends online who are into different decades and we send each other charity shop finds. I have one friend who is obsessed with the 70s; I’ve sent him Pyrex glasses and a candlewick bedspread.
Socially and politically, we’ve come a long way since the 90s. As a gay man, it’s not a decade that would have been easy for me but I’m happy enjoying its legacy. It still holds relevance. Watching the Free Britney case was upsetting: I like to watch Top of the Pops reruns from when she’s a teenager and it’s sad to think how bad it became for her. But I’ve loved seeing the big comebacks, such as Steps and the Spice Girls.
I don’t take my interest too seriously. I have a smartphone, I use the internet, but my personal taste has expanded into a lifestyle I find fun. When people ask me why I do it, there is no other reason than it brings me joy. Isn’t that enough?
As told to Deborah Linton
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